Brain Damage in Babies Due to Lack of Oxygen

A newborn's hand wrapped around their parent's thumb.

Welcoming a newborn should be one of the most cherished experiences in a parent’s life. Unfortunately, many parents face the unthinkable after the birth of their child when they learn their newborn has a birth injury. 

Contact us now to schedule a free consultation with our catastrophic injury attorneys today. 

What is birth asphyxia?

Oxygen is essential for human life. Without it, you can die. That’s why the doctor clears the newborn’s passageways after delivery. Birth asphyxia occurs when medical professionals can’t get a baby to breathe immediately following the birth. Birth asphyxia can be fatal, cause permanent injuries, or cause minor short-term injuries.

Does birth asphyxia cause brain damage?

Birth asphyxia can cause brain damage in babies due to lack of oxygen. Newborns need oxygen within minutes of birth to prevent irreversible brain damage.

What causes birth asphyxia?

Multiple incidents can cause birth asphyxia. It can occur during labor, including before the baby’s birth, during the birth, or after the delivery. The primary causes of birth asphyxia are birth complications and medical malpractice.

Birth complications

Newborns have a higher risk of birth asphyxia if the delivery is long because more things can go wrong in that time. The umbilical cord can wrap around the infant’s neck, preventing them from getting enough oxygen in the womb and causing birth asphyxia. A placental abruption can also prevent the baby from getting enough oxygen. Other factors that could cause an oxygen shortage include issues with the mother’s blood pressure or health issues with the infant, such as anemia.

Medical malpractice

Medical professionals are responsible for providing appropriate, timely medical care. When someone’s about to experience childbirth, they usually go to a hospital to ensure they have an expert team of medical professionals facilitating a safe delivery. 

Medical mistakes sometimes cause birth injuries or contribute to their severity. Suppose a woman’s delivering a baby and the baby’s heart rate drops. The medical team takes no immediate actions to determine if a placental abruption has occurred or if the umbilical cord prevents the infant from breathing. You can sue the medical team for medical malpractice.

Birth injury signs to look for

Newborns may suffer various types of birth injuries, including the following:

  • Birth asphyxia
  • Brachial palsy
  • Broken bones
  • Bruising
  • Damaged blood vessels in the eyes
  • Internal bleeding (Cephalohematoma)
  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)

Some birth injuries, such as birth asphyxia, brachial palsy, and TBIs, can cause permanent or long-term catastrophic injuries. Signs of birth injuries vary, depending on the nature and severity of the injury. However, some common indicators may be present after birth or as your child grows.

Immediately following birth

Indicators of birth asphyxia and other birth injuries immediately after birth may include the following:

  • Abnormal hand or arm position
  • Abnormal skin color
  • Excessive crying
  • Inability to eat
  • Pain when moving
  • Seizures
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Tight elbow joints

As your baby grows

Some symptoms appear as your child develops. These symptoms may involve your child’s failure to reach developmental milestones. Things to look for include the following:

  • Difficulty grasping objects
  • Not crawling
  • Unable to sit up

Effects of brain damage in newborns

Brain damage can affect multiple aspects of a child’s life, such as the following:

  • Behavioral development: Depending on the severity and nature of the injury, a child with brain damage may struggle to concentrate and be impulsive
  • Cognitive development: Children with brain damage may have difficulty learning language and struggle to process thoughts in a typical manner
  • Communication skills: Some children with brain damage find learning how to read or write difficult or impossible. Brain damage can also impair their ability to communicate verbally.
  • Emotional development: It’s common for people with TBIs to struggle with anger and depression
  • Hormonal signs: Brain injuries can affect a child’s hormonal levels. Those with growth hormone deficiency may hit puberty later than usual, and the arrival of baby and adult teeth could be delayed. Those affected by hormone deficiencies may have low energy levels and decreased appetite.
  • Lack of awareness: When brain damage affects the portions of the brain that regulate behavior, the child may lack self-awareness. Some children with this issue can display violence.
  • Physical development: Children with brain damage may have weak muscles, poor muscle tone, and lack of coordination

Can a baby recover from brain damage?

The severity of the brain damage determines whether an infant can recover. Cases of mild brain damage may lead to a full recovery. Prompt treatment can also improve an infant’s chances of recovery. 

How common is brain damage in babies due to lack of oxygen?

Lack of oxygen at birth claims hundreds of thousands of infant lives annually. Considering that approximately 130 million infants are born each year, 900,000 deaths equals 0.0069% of all babies born. While the odds are low, birth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of death during or immediately after delivery.

Can I sue if my child suffered brain damage due to a lack of oxygen at birth?

You may have a legal claim against the medical professionals who delivered your child if they failed to take appropriate actions during the delivery and their failure caused your child’s birth injury. Those with a claim can seek financial compensation for damages such as medical bills stemming from their child’s injury and the pain and suffering caused by their injury.

How long do I have to file a birth injury claim?

Colorado gives plaintiffs 24 months to file a lawsuit. This deadline begins on the date of the personal injury. Since birth injuries are considered personal injuries, parents have two years to initiate a lawsuit.

However, Colorado law allows the injured child to also file a claim. Children suffering from birth injuries can file a case as long as they do so before their 20th birthday.

How a birth injury lawyer can help

A birth injury lawyer at their desk stamping paperwork.

Birth injury lawyers understand you’re coping with a life-changing event at what should be one of the happiest times in your life. Uncertainty about your child’s prognosis can cause fear, anger, and frustration. Our firm provides a Victim Advocate’s Team to investigate catastrophic injuries to determine who’s liable and compile the evidence needed to help our clients get justice.  

Contact Colorado’s top birth injury lawyers. We’ll provide the legal support you need to resolve your case so you can focus on your newborn’s needs. 


Changes in the newborn at birth. (2023). 

First Sight of Your Newborn After a Routine Vaginal Delivery. (2015). 

Perinatal Asphyxia. (2023). 

Ritchie, H. et al. (2023). How many people die and how many are born each year?